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Oltița Cîntec

Scenography, Crossroads between Director’s Vision and Audience’s


Emotional Commitment. Three Romanian Young Set Designers

Trained in specialty departments or emerging from collateral domains, such as visual arts
or architecture, the young Romanian set designers are placed creatively in the light of director’s
vision to which they offer stage materiality. The original arrangement of a space, the dramatic
functionality of the setting and costumes, multimedia, light design materialize through plastic
solutions the idea of a show, as delivered by the stage director. Still the most important figure in
the Romanian theatre, the director finds visual support in the set design rhetoric of shapes,
volumes and chromatics. Most often, the set designer cumulates the attributions of creating and
making the set design, costumes, lighting, but more and more often, experts in visuals or light
design join the creation team. Detached from the classical understanding of the term set design,
light and video design have gained a freestanding statute, associating arts and technologies.
As the national artistic market is stuck to a quite constant number of stage designing job
offers and youth has no time to wait, the dynamics of the profession records many cases of
graduates who, though trained as stage designers, leave the field or temporarily migrate,
choosing advertising, interior design or film. For reasons of rapid insertion and motivating
incomes.
From the few young persons who have made their way in the Romanian theatre as “new
wave” and who certainly have a voice to be heard, I have chosen three creators with relevant
itineraries. Being part of different generations, with distinct professional stories, Alina Herescu,
Adrian Damian and Irina Moscu distinguish themselves by means of their imaginative powers.

ALINA HERESCU and the Filters of the Being


I had the chance to see Alina Herescu in action: when she starts a new project, the ideas
flow in a playful creativity flux and the members of her team have the feeling that, sometimes,
they need to dam. For nothing else but deadline! Other than that, watching “the Hereasca”, as
Radu Afrim, nicknamed her tenderly (a director with whom she worked seven times in thirteen
years!) is similar to watching a tornado which is amplifying as the discussions with the stage

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partners evolve: cascades of solutions. At first, everything is in her mid, then the laptop folders
multiply, the drawing tools escape the dressing case and any office is just too small, the boards
are filled with drawings. The process is continued in the workshops, where some are modified
and on stage where they are trimmed to get their final shape. Nothing is definitive until it looks
as it should and it has the right functionality.
Alina Herescu had no hesitation regarding her career, she trained for set design from her
high school studies: she graduated from a specialty class of the Arts High school Nicolae Tonitza
from Bucharest (her diploma paper was The Flies by J. P. Sartre), then Set Design in the Arts
Academy in the capital city (her licence thesis was on Straight as a Line by Luis Alfaro and The
Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler). Both shows were staged in state institutions, the first in
Maria Filotti Brăila, the latter in Ariel Târgu Mureș and they announced a creator that needed to
be closely watched. The critical acclaim dates from those days: Drept ca o linie/Straight as a
Line impressed due to its picturesque and aestheticism; Monoloagele vaginului/The Vagina
Monologues, by means of set design concentration of the real and imaginary. For that matter,
through everything she has done, she has proven her adjustability to any dramatic register, any
author and director’s vision. About the creation in partnership and the joint visions, the artist
considers that “a show truly lives only when the creators’ stories become a perfect sphere, with a
unitary homogenous content, like a snowball which accumulates by rolling, becomes bigger,
rounder, fuller and when it receives light, it unveils all its light spectrum, like a diamond. Only
then does it take our breath away “ 1. Her designs do not place themselves in the shadow of the
playwright’s or director’s authorship. Alina Herescu’s stage design and costumes accompany
them as expressive strength, reinforce them as visual fingerprint, organically integrated in the
show’s universe of meanings.
What arouses Alina Herescu in elaborating a new show is the story. “The story is
essential in life, not to mention in theatre! From it I feed myself the story so that I can give back
a story, after having assimilated it and distilled it through all the filters of my being. Therefore,
at first we assimilate the dramaturgic context, so that later we can harmoniously weave it all in a
common story, coherent from the director’s and set designer’s perspective”. Her scenographies
are narrative, they tell the director’s story, the text’s story but supplement them with mini-stories
visually expressed. The set design and the costumes facilitate the audience’s contact with the

1
All the quotations are extracted from my discussions with Alina Herescu.
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playwright’s perspective, but, especially of the stage director, they educate the eye which is
spoiled with images.
She experienced the independent theatre area, especially Teatrul Luni from Green Hours,
in Bucharest, a special creation environment, in a pioneering period of the non-state formulas.
Alina Herescu did not collaborate with the small stage on Calea Victoriei Boulevard in her first
years of activity, as it usually happens in Romania, but after she had already been known. When
it comes to comparing “the state” in “private” experiences, she does not consider there are
significant differences between the two sectors. “In the Romanian space, the differences are
rather in expectations. I would like to see more courageous experiments in the independent
space. And, generally, I would like more courage and creativity in the theatre space, whichever
that may be. For the time being, it seems to me that theatre lies comfortably on its oars, so that
nobody bothers no one and, generally, not too big an inconvenience”. Her creations always stand
out, there is “the inconvenience”, that is, each new stage design is surprising, beyond the
recurrent elements which make her signature recognizable. For Alina Herescu, scenographic art
is a way of being, and her set designs are “passionate” creations which collect ideas from the text
and from the director’s vision, which she transforms into a painting filled with suggestion. When
the case imposes it, she chooses the synthetic and its symbolizing power. For Carmina Burana
(National Theatre Târgu Mureș, 2012), she opted for a “black box” and a minimalist “setting” ,
allowing Gigi Căciuleanu’s dancer-actors room for playful development. The scenic objects
derive in a flow of ideas from a time wheel: the clock, the moon, the semicircle drawn in the air
by the open fans, the barrels from which hands seem to appear, rolls of rope unwounded or
unfolded as the chronologic ball. Other times, the stage is invaded by set elements and props
which overflow from the play or from the director’ point of view. In Piatra Neamț, for Comedie
neagră/Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer (2015) she was playful, she played on the card of the
oneiric, with lines and forms of optical illusion fused by the action of the colourful light. The
human body is “sprayed” throughout the stage: a statue which represents a feminine human body
becomes a mini-bar, arms get out from the walls, one leg and a torso undergo a metamorphosis
into sculpture, the decorative aim being doubled by the stage semantics.
From the director’s point of view, the theatre show gains materiality through its set
design. It is an artistic ascendant of those who sign the settings and the costumes have over the
stage directors. Still the epicentre of creation in the group professions of performance art, the

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director is, paradoxically, the least “visible” in his entire team. He must express himself through
others: actors, with maximum exposure are the carriers of messages towards the audience;
musical composition is heard; choreography can be seen; the stage design envelops the space and
the interpreters with tangible elements, basically the only ones which last beyond the time limits
of the performance. The resistance to ephemeral gives the set designers a quality of theatre
exception. Settings, costumes, objects maintain in themselves “alluviums” from each past
performance and announce materially the future ones. The set designs in themselves “speak”,
though partially incompletely, about a show. Beyond the exit from the repertoire, the set
preserves the show latently, loaded with specific theatricality.
Set design and costumes walk hand in hand in Alina Herescu’s view: “I create both the
setting and the costumes, because I can’t think in halves, because I feel them as going together.
Sometimes, the setting ‘is revealed to me’, other times, the costumes or simply the whole, as a
dream. Inspiration is responsible for their order and how fast they all come. I am just an
instrument of my imagination, its left hand, my soul’s left hand. That’s because I am left-handed.
But the fun begins from reading the text, as I read in images, I think in images, I live in images.”
Figurability and the quality of having moving paintings / paintings in motions are features
reiterated by her settings. Sometimes she prefers simplicity and counts on the power of
suggestion. Other times she is baroque. But she always incorporates the dramaturgic essence into
her visual expression.
Alina Herescu works on the computer as well, but “pencil and paper are the essential.
After the ideas start growing, once they’re on the paper, the lust for colours and materials that
bring ideas to life can start. Still, the story gives me the content, the meat, the textures. That is
the reason why I don’t have limits, I love each material, in its adequate context.” As a freelancer,
Alina Herescu always works away. “Everything is on me. I am an artist and I express myself
however, wherever, whenever. I think that is why I express myself in more ways, using more
artistic languages”. Usually she does not refuse a project, she only does it when her professional
agenda and the time force her to. “Being authentic in experiencing life, I involve myself very
much in each project, that is why I don’t get into more at once. Each story at its time. If they
overlap, then I give up the one which came later, as I like being fair play, even if this gets me into
trouble. I also happened to say no, when I felt I had absolutely nothing to do with the context.
When there is no challenge, there is nothing.”

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She does not have preferred themes to which she returns, she is an artist of diversity in
styles. She associated her name with the ones of courageous directors: Radu Afrim, Gianina
Cărbunariu, Gigi Căciuleanu, Radu Apostol, Ana Mărgineanu, Szabo K. Istvan, Andreea Vălean,
Sorin Militaru, Peter Kerek, Erwin Șimsensohn etc. The directors she teamed with, “are those
with whose worlds my world lives ultimately, naturally and what’s more, happily. Those who stir
all my creative desires, of incurable authentic living being, those who challenge me with their
story.” Sometimes she works with less known directors, to support them and in the recent years
she has had apprentices, assistants she teaches the practice of the profession on the fly, filling in
what school cannot offer in their years of study. About her fellows at their starting line in their
career, Alina Herescu estimates they only have a chance if they “are curios and have an endless
appetite to play and to do this job, at all easy. If it itches them and they work as they are
required, maybe even more, then they have all the chances in the world. But if they get stuck in
half way done, they’d rather found the way they can take all the way through”. The advice the
artist gives is for them to struggle to find their own way, “to the guts and most of all, all the way
through!”
In the economy of a theatre review, with very few exceptions, the number of lines
devoted to set design does not exceed some, no matter how exceptional the creation may be.
However, Alina Herescu’s set designs drawn enough appraisals in her decade of a career.
“Although very little is written about set design, I cannot say I didn’t receive nice words, which I
have to admit, make me fly. Usually, they come from people who really look, really search
curiously through all the hidden corners and details. They are valuable for me, by the way
somebody, called me at some point ‘the set designer of the details’.” Each time, the imaginative
resources are renewed, the density of ideas articulate the new creation, showing subtlety and
refinement in thinking, the author’s fluid expression. The viewer’s attention is caught and carried
from one point to the other. Alina Herescu’s set designs are part of that category you cannot but
notice. For Inimi cicatrizate (Scarred Hearts) based on Max Blecher’s writing (National Theatre
Constanța, 2006), she chose the idea of materializing the state of motionless of the ill suffering
from bone tuberculosis in the sanatoria of Berck. The beds-stretchers-strollers are equipped with
rear mirrors and they become stage devices in and on which actors stay, act, as in a constraining
cell. Apparently making their moves more difficult, the mechanisms offer the actors support in
their interpretation, forcing them to act in a very precise type of corporal expressivity. The cast as

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an exhibited sign of the disease, the cast as a state of identity, as an extension of a suffering body,
but also as a defence dam that illustrates how an idea that comes from the text is “coated” by the
set designer’s creativity.
The set designer’s raw material is space, it needs to be transformed, animated for the new
show. In this respect, Alina Herescu considers that “here, as well, it’s about what the story
requires from you, how much air, how much breathing, how much intimacy it needs. Generally
speaking, I prefer big spaces, big things. For me, only the details which make the difference are
small. The theatre space is like a magic box, it swallows you all, you become small, a child and,
exactly like in Wonderland, all sorts of surprises appear; they steal your eye, captivate you,
fascinate you. Tell me a story and I may even forget I am claustrophobic. While ‘sleazy’
suffocates me even if I’m in open air”. Her proposals are surprising, but rigorous, and the threads
of conceptual certainty cause the space to be resonant with the actors, surpassing the condition of
evolving environment. The set designer does not offer only a frame, she supports the interpreters
in sending emotion towards the audience. For Steaua fără nume (The Star without a Name)
(National Theatre Târgu Mureș, 2015), she built an entire “town”, composed of scaffold
structures which make the walls, windows, footbridges. Some disappear from the viewer’s
eyesight as the story goes on, only to make room for others, which are in the back, still invisible.
For instance, those which compose Miroiu’s room, reflecting his theatrical portrait: screens
thickset with books, simple furniture; on the sides, window frames which overlook the simple
room in which the Maths teacher lives; in front, window boxes. Here and beyond are the layouts
on which Alina Herescu operates, the set design construction is based on the constructivist
characterization of the small-town settlement where dreams are suffocated into annihilation,
everybody knows everything about everyone, because the watch is strict and the talk of the town
is the most serious court. It is a patina, crowded world, perfect for ruining ideals. The artist
transposes onstage the tonality of the great themes in Sebastian’s play, and reinforces the
director’s and the acting approaches.
Alina Herescu herself is a character loved by everybody who works with her: “People
see me as the tornado that comes, puzzles and leaves. The important thing is that people expect
me to come longingly and that is wonderful.”In her 13 years of activity, the “tornado” Alina
Herescu left behind her fifty set creations, statistically, an average of about four shows a season.

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The shape and content, the defining visual motif, the compositional rigour, the emotional tension
changes the stages she works on into a continuous innovation field.

ADRIAN DAMIAN, the Living Set and the Intelligent Objects on Stage

Adrian Damian came into the world of theatre via The Theatre and Television Faculty
from the Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, the acting class of the redoubtable teacher
Miklós Bàcs whose pedagogical qualities have educated along the years more exceptional
graduates. As in Cluj there is no set design department, students take care of this aspect for their
term shows. In the first semester, Adrian Damian had the task of creating a snowflake which was
to be launched from the ceiling and the result was ingenious, revealing his talent. With each new
exam, his contributions enlarged and became more complex, including costumes, elaborated sets,
special effects, objects animated by electro-mechanical installations. In his final year he worked
together with Tudor Lucanu, for Cântarea cântărilor (The Song of Songs), directed by Mihai
Măniuțiu (Hungarian State Theatre Cluj Napoca, 2007), creating electric butterflies which had
their wings moving. Then, it was still Măniuțiu who invited him for the set design of Odihna sau
puțin înaintea sfârșitului (The Rest or A little before the End) after George Banu (Municipal
Theatre Tony Bulandra Târgoviște, 2008). Odihna was the decisive show in taking the decision
of doing set design. “Despite all problems and shortcomings generated firstly by our lack of
experience, despite the accumulated tiredness, I realised that is what I wanted to do further on.”2

His ties with his new profession and a definitive place in the area of visual-theatre world
were made closer by participation to workshops, a master degree in set design, coordinated by
Ștefania Cenean and another one in sound and light design at UNATC Bucharest. But the
connexion with the actor, established through his initial formation remained a constant of his
scenic vision. All stage elements in part and as an ensemble become acting partners for the
actors, extending their interpretative potential and their means of expression. Although
specialised as a set designer, Adrian Damian did not leave acting for good, he just serves it from
a different perspective: he does not act himself, but the mechanisms he designs. “In The Theatre
2
All the quotations are extracted from my discussions with Adrian Damian.
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and Television Faculty from Cluj-Napoca, people stress the importance of set design for the
class exams. For me, it was very, very good. During my four years of Acting I spent more time
creating objects, masks, costumes or props for me and my colleagues than studying speech
technique, corporal expressivity or other areas connected to the actor’s technique. I can say that
my first set design teacher was Miklós Bács, as during the acting practice I started to
understand the value of an object or of a place on stage, the power of expression of a colour on
stage or the dramatic function of a costume. And everything I learnt afterwards, in the
Scenography Faculty from UNATC did not contradict, but enhanced the ideas I had related to
the relation between actor, space and object. I strongly believe the actors play with the set, not in
front of it, and their vibes should resonate.” This is his artistic philosophy.
In his creative journey, for Damian the creative impulse is represented by the discussion
with the director, whose conception should be embodied by the scenography: “I start by
understanding director’s vision on the text/scenario. Why he chose it, what it tells him, what he
wants to express through it.” In any new project, the director has more importance than the
author, play or the institution which produces it, and in a “power” relation with him, “the normal
relation is of complementary submission. I am more interested in understanding the director’s
point of view, his world, what inspires him, what he want to express, but I avoid offering him
only what he wants. That would be only submission and it is not creative. I am glad when I can
offer more than what I was asked for, including the initial wish. That is where we can talk about
complementarities.”
When possible, he works for some months before the beginning of the rehearsals, as, at
least in the case of Mihai Măniuțiu’s shows, to whom he owes his career launching and some
remarkable creation3. The meetings with the actors have to take place on the set. Adrian Damian
takes part in rehearsals, he continues to elaborate, he changes what and if required, because
everything on stage has to support director’s idea and to be useful for the actor, to help him in his
creation bit. Theatre deals with emotions, and the actor placed in a certain set, in a certain light,
having all resources seeded in the character by the director during the preparations for the
production has the power of triggering emotion. Shapes and colours delight the viewers on a
sensory level, the acting drives to their emotionality.
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The two artists have worked together for 16 productions so far. Adrian Damian has also worked
with Radu Afrim, Ada Lupu, Alexander Hausvater, Roberto Bacci and the famous Robert
Wilson, whose associated set designer was for The Rhinoceros (National Theatre Craiova).
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It is not the destination, but the journey, the creative search which is the most beautiful
side of each theatrical approach: “I love the creation process, that moment when ideas are
floating in the air with uncertainty and you have the possibility and freedom to experiment, to
facilitate their dialogue, to let them materialize in shapes you haven’t even thought of. But I try
not to ‘marry’ an idea immediately, even if it’s love at first sight! Divorces from ideas are never
easy, especially if children have been born. I am kidding, but I strongly believe that taking a
decision means giving up all other things that could have been chosen. I love experiment and
seeing how far I can go before I make up my mind.” The scenography register moulds into the
director’s, and has the power to represent it. In 12 oameni furioși (Twelve Angry Men) (National
State Theatre Cluj-Napoca, director: Tudor Lucanu), the set prefigures the decisional dilemmas:
the floor has the squares of a chess board; the walls and windows are very tall, emphasizing an
interior which is already over laden by the vintage chromatics, dull (white, black, beige and grey
nuances). For Vertij/Vertigo (Aureliu Manea Theatre, Turda, director: Mihai Măniuțiu), he
preferred minimalism, simplicity, making way for the power of suggestion given by lighting and
video projections. In all sets, Adrian Damian lays hidden artistic aims which unveil and become
visible and understandable gradually. The accuracy of his proposals develops the director’s
premises, offering a stage environment which stimulates the cast and enchants the audience.
The stages of the elaboration depend very much on the director, but they have the space
as a starting point. The first real encounter with the new theatre space is of utmost importance
and, as in every love story, Adrian Damian wants the two of them to be left alone, him and the
stage: “When I look at a stage, I try to know it, to understand it. I ask the theatre for time when I
can stay alone on the empty stage. For me, it is a very important moment. So that I can
peacefully measure it, to walk on it, to watch it from the audience’s seats, from the balcony, to try
to see it as it really is, not as I would like it to be. I think that a lot from what happens next is
based on this first encounter, on the honesty I put into seeing an empty space, leaving aside all
prejudgements.” There is no perfect space, but perimeters that need to be shaped. How does he
react to the limitations of a space? “I always try to work with the space, not against it, and the
limitations are features of the personality. Indeed, sometimes it is strange, it is as if trying to
paint the painting after having it framed.” Space constraints stimulate his creativity, as
“sometimes the frame can inspire the content”. Vulnerabilities and lacks are changed into assets,
and he melts them into the scenographic concept. For Life’s a Dream by Calderon de la Barca

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(National Theatre Timisoara, director, Mihai Măniuțiu), the language of the stage shape started
from the “dominant image imposed by the aluminium scaffolding beams used for supporting the
spotlights. I preferred to integrate it and continue it into the set, instead of making useless efforts
and trying to hide it.”
The young artist believes in the scenography which is rich in meanings, in a dramaturgy
of the set. The mission of the set designer is to shape the space; through his vision, he needs to
accommodate the director’s conception, the play’s dramatics and the actors’ creativity. In his
over thirty creations realized for stages of first rank in the country, Adrian Damian has imposed
his style. The symbolic shades, the translation of the potential of the text and especially of the
director’s vision in material elements (set, costumes, objects, props), the semantic motivation, the
ideas ratio, the rigorous compositions have made him a valuable artist. His scenographies are
plastic configurations articulated on the level of ideas, through superior concept motivation,
which generate intellectual emotion. Space design arranges the stage through settings,
installations, objects, mechanisms, costumes, all integrated in the metaphor which summarizes
the meanings of the shows. The space is organized playfully, the way how Adrian Damian
divides and furnishes it, ensure its versatility. The solutions are perfectly calibrated, and the top
elements of his scenographies are the components of the set. A synthesis between shape and
content, they are smart, active settings which develop gradually, synchronised with the situation
on stage. They follow the dramatic action and the transformations of the characters, they are
settings that wait, evolve, fertile scenographies, animated by mechanisms and small engines
imagined and controlled by their designer. The intentionality of the settings, the way they are
projected confers them mystery and attractiveness. Adrian Damian’s passion for machines and
mechanism dates back to his childhood spent amid the reactors of the nuclear plant in
Cernavodă: “I remember very clearly the moment when I managed to reassemble and even to
repair a toy tank, controlled with a wired remote controller, when I was six or seven. I’ve always
had the curiosity to understand how things work, what ‘animates’ them. Even if I was not an
Olympic in Physics, quite on the contrary, the Mechanics semester was quite hard, I have always
been passionate about all mechanism. My way of seeing things was marked by Arthur C.
Clarke’s statement that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. I
think that what attracts me is magic and, implicitly, everything that is hidden behind it.” Adrian
Damian’s creations surprise the expectations, exceed them, and tease the audience who discover

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up to the last minutes of the show the possibilities of the setting and of the accompanying
elements. Viewer’s curiosity remains alert, he is captivated by the magic unveiled under his own
eyes. In Viaţa e vis (Life’s a Dream), which made him a nominee for the UNITER Prizes (2013),
together with Dragoș Buhagiar and Helmut Stürmer, the set is moving, it gives birth to acting
environments and triggers feelings. First, we see a metallic wall, made of nic lad, constraining
space. Beyond it, there is something else which closes the way to another thing; a telescopic
tunnel with lit outlines which advances from the background towards the audience, after a while
it withdraws, giving you the feeling it aspires you. Using metallic construction (strand fences,
sheet metal walls etc.), the scenographic visual suggests the limitation of the freedom of option.
The floor made of plexiglass, illuminated from the underground, configures, along with the
whole lighting, the atmosphere of a different world; the TVs showing live transmissions maintain
the viewers connected to the immediate realities. It is a scenic concept with semantic levels,
which “talks” to the spectators at the same time with the actors, rounding the verbal discourse.
Adrian Damian wants dynamics, evolutions, he is not found of static scenography. The
settings need to be gradually revealed, together with the scenic action and the transformation of
the characters. In The Lesson from Radu Stanca National Theatre from Sibiu, the walls in the
Professor’s room slide apart, in fact, they lift in order to reveal a new space, which hides the
students in captivity, in transparent parallelepipeds, in their upper part. “The cassettes” with the
Professor’s anterior trophies are walking with their tenants, the choral ensemble becoming a
pluri-cellular “organism” with theatrical supplement. It is reactive: it comments musically-
choreographically, it announces, it interacts, it assimilates the new victim. Mihai Măniuțiu has
reinterpreted Ionescu’s play by placing it in the history of the great dictatorships in the recent
past. The double discourse, the convenient reality and the hidden one, the torture through
language as an element of despotic power are the themes of the directorial writing. They are
transposed on stage by means of versatility of the set and of pieces of furniture which undergo a
metamorphosis according to the context, being at times table, chair, stomatologic chair and panel
as those used in the circus by knife-throwers so that they prove their mastery. The solutions are
technically ingenious and efficient symbolically, as the objects evolve with the changes in the
Professor’s and the Student’s state of being.
A musical instrument which sings without a player, a book which browses itself, a
butterfly flying through the stage are intelligent stage objects, humanized my means of kinetic

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independence and capacity of being meaning-bearers. For Adrian Damian, an intelligent stage
object means “an object with inherent possibilities and features. I am interested in this type of
objects which can become characters and express by themselves stories, ideas, emotion”. In
Death and the ploughman by Johannes von Tepl (Hungarian State Theatre, Cluj-Napoca,
director, Mihai Măniuțiu, 2013) the main character gives up suicide after having interacted with a
book that browses itself. Controlled from backstage by means of a remote controller, it starts
turning the pages without a visible intervention, becoming, thus, a character that relates to the
actor, determining his evolution. He uses intelligent stage objects not only because they are
unusual and impress the audience, but he is also in search for “their dramatic function: what
they can express, how they can enter a dialogue with the space or the characters, what they can
say, this is what fascinates me in terms of intelligent stage objects.” For the past years he has
studied them on a theoretical level, as he has been writing a PhD thesis on the topic of “Stage
Technique Applications, Special Effects and Intelligent Stage Objects”. They are stage objects
invested with theatricality, built so that they become capable of reacting on stage, they extend,
confirm or contradict what the actors do. Resorting to engineering tricks, Adrian Damian
establishes little mechanical or electronic engines which, invisibly controlled, change into actors
of certain stage situations. He comes with the practical solutions, technique is very important, it
becomes a support for the scenographic fantasy. In Mr. Swedenborg wants to dream (National
Theatre Iași, director Mihai Măniuțiu, 2013), the whole set is a huge and complicated machine
composed of tubes, screens, musical instruments, devices, transparent cylinders filled with
colourful liquids etc. This composition becomes the machine, Swedenborg’s “scientific-angelic
lab” which animates in a miraculous manner the screens onstage, the smoking chest which
moves its drawers, the kinetic machine to make music. All comes to life, in a dialogue with the
actors who gain no longer a visual environment, but a partner.
If you observe Damian’s creations, you notice that some types of materials reappear with
a certain frequency, among them: plexiglass, wire net, perforated sheet, meshes. Light spots and
enhances their stage qualities. Light which is filtered by transparent medium or reflected by
certain surfaces acquire new visual potential. The creator is not exclusivist, but pragmatic: “I
prefer the materials which ease the execution manner, the assembling and disassembling,
transport of the set, materials with high resistance even at low densities. I am intrigued about
how materiality can be more expressive than shape or how shape can suggest materiality and the

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ways the two can relate. I think that dialogue between shape and materiality creates the
figurability of the space. I don’t think there are bad materials, but unhappy combinations or
uninspired choices in a certain context”.
He used water as organic material in The House of Bernarda Alba by F.G. Lorca
(Classical Theatre “Ioan Slavici” Arad, director, Mihai Măniuțiu, 2012) and Tihna (Tranquillity)
by Attila Bartis (National Theatre Târgu Mureș, “Tompa Miklos” company, director, Radu Afrim,
2015).”I am attracted by water due to its plurivalent expression, but it also challenges me, due
to the multiple difficulties you encounter when using it on stage. I like a material that is so rich
in meanings, so expressive and which is so hard to tame.” In Tihna, there is canal with an
assorted shape, irregular, round, filled with water; it outlines an island in the middle of the stage,
and the aquatic presence is not just something else, a demarcation of boundaries, but also a
deadlock, stagnation. Water is not a plain “material”. The set designer extended its symbolic
force by mossy pieces which invaded the set, by steam which enhance an ambiguous
atmosphere. The aquatic element facilitates the frequent switch from real to fantastic, offering an
extra environment of performance for the actors.
Besides theatre set design, Adrian Damian has done film set design, interior design
advertising, prosthesis. He admires Robert Lepage, Romeo Castellucci, Robert Wilson, who
revolutionized the visual dimension of the contemporary show. In his career, he was marked by
enriching encounters with Miklós Bàcs, Mihai Măniuțiu, Helmut Stürmer, Ștefania Cenean,
Radu Afrim, Robert Wilson, to whom he is grateful “for the things they taught me, for how they
motivated or challenged me”. His cooperation with Robert Wilson, as associated set designer for
The Rhinoceros (National State Theatre Craiova, 2014) was unique, very special, which left
traces in his way of creating: “I was struck by his simplicity and honesty when declaring that
what he does is not necessarily theatre. He was not saying that it is the way everybody should do
it, that was the value, that is the way contemporary theatre should look like, but it was his only
way to make theatre. Without trying to persuade that his point of view was the only correct or
possible one, he started to talk about what he considers the greatest lie in theatre, THE TRUTH
or trying to claim that what we see on stage is true. For Wilson, the perfect form is the only
capable of transmitting authentic emotion”. One of the things learnt from Wilson is that “there
is nothing in the absence of light”, a statement that seems to belong to a painter. “He was staying
in exactly the same place in the room and he was using the actors, light, sound, objects, set,

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costumes exactly as if they were colours he was supposed to put on canvas. The feeling is that I
observe the painting of a painting. But the precision when he was doing it, the accuracy he
required, the attention for details and the requirements for each detail which were almost
obsessive made me understand what that perfect form meant”. For the American director, beauty
in theatre comes from “the power of the symbiosis between actor, space and light”.
Adrian Damian’s professional portrait is defined by clear features: personal fingerprint,
authentic, artistic performance of his proposals. The critical validation was fast, from his first
creations, his aesthetic orientation and his scenographic vocabulary, which distinguish him
artistically. Although he feels he is “passionate about marathon, not about sprint”, Damian
works a lot: in 2015, for instance, he contributed to five shows, each having new visual manners,
in a unique stylistic system. They are dynamic sets, which function at once, together with the
performance, they become characters, following the principle of a “acting partner”. “Living
sets”, elements which appear on the way, invented machines, medical/scientific machineries
recycled theatrically, pipes, screens, pumps, tubing filled with liquids which outline spaces,
“boil” or smoke, modern materials, transparencies, intelligent stage objects make his
scenographies magic. Adrian Damian’s scenographic language is essence, rich in terms of
meanings, beautiful for the eye to watch and inciting to decipher.

IRINA MOSCU, conceptualized scenography


For The Lesson at Radu Stanca National Theatre in Sibiu, Adrian Damian collaborated
with Irina Moscu, who created the costumes. The artist turned to set design from architecture, a
specialty she states in her signature on the playbill and which, in fact, she did not give up after
having taken up theatre. Her double professional origin is explained by her family history, her
father was an architect, but he converted himself to TV set design. “I was connected to theatre
and film, I took to smell sets, costumes, I liked it, but my passion faded a bit when I grew up.
When I was in high school I decided to become an architect, I was really interested in this form
of creation. In my fifth year of faculty I opted for a course of set design, thus becoming curious
again, and my curiosity has grown while I was researching and this is how I realized what I
wanted to do. I decided to see how the land lies in this artistic area and I discovered I like
especially its versatility.”4 Irina Moscu has always been in the area of visual arts: she graduated
4
All the quotations are extracted from my discussions with Irina Moscu.
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from Nicolae Tonitza Visual Arts High School, Architecture and Urbanism University Ion Mincu,
she did a master in Set Design at UNATC Bucharest. She has never left these related areas,
simultaneously working in advertising graphics, project illustration, identities, interior design etc.
Situated on the creative crossroads from architecture, design, graphics, set design, there is also
her presence in the Architecture Annuals, where, in 2014, she was nominated for a scenographic
creation: the set design for Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, direction, Radu-Alexandru Nica
(“Csiky Gergely” Theatre Timisoara). Austere, but sophisticated, condensed from the point of
view of shapes, but containing a multitude of potentialities, revealed during the dramatic
performance, Irina Moscu’s set recreates from firm lines and acute angles the whole world in
which the drama with tragic accents is carried out. Materialised in asymmetric platforms, the
scenographic construction has a dynamic relations with the video projections, and continues
them beyond its borders. Parts of the set become a projection surface, and the physical
limitations of the space architecturally arranged are surpassed through visuals which prolong
virtually the scenographic area in itself. Light design valorises the set, adding colours according
to the conflict and emotions of the characters. Surprise elements, the table and the chairs, emerge
from the floor and go back there, emphasising the global idea which includes all the necessities
of ideas and functionality of the show. Irina Moscu’s vivid imagination and firm hand succeed in
transferring in this creation all range of sufferings caused by the terrible civic war referred to by
the text.
With very few exceptions, in Romania before being able to work in a state theatre, you
have to have the independent experience, an area which is structurally different from the
establishment, especially in terms of production conditions and less in terms of aesthetic
directions. Cooperating with the independents is a sort of hardening by means of adjusting to the
material precariousness of the domain, in which young creators have to resist. Some of them
manage to access the area of comfortable budgets for their fantasy and creative powers, of the
subsidize network. For set designers, the “safest” solution is to work with someone “big”, then, if
there is talent which is accompanied by chance and doubled by tenacity, the doors are open. For
some time now, in the state system, the successful recipe has been the race for highly rated
directors, which ensure invitations to important festivals. That is why, associating the name of a
young set designer with one of the big and famous is the key to confirmation.

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Irina Moscu’s road has been by the book, as stated by some and by herself: “I had a
coherent journey, I’ve never syncopated”. She has worked in the independent sector, she been
simultaneously set designer’s assistant for Ștefania Cenean, Ștefan Caragiu, Dragoș Buhagiar,
Helmut Stürmer, and she has learnt, on the fly, a lot from them. Her debut was in 2010, with the
set design for the short film Un anume Victor (A Certain Victor), director, Ciprian Baciu,
UNATC Bucharest production. In 2012, she was on the bill as main set designer for Auto, after
Ernesto Caballero, at Café Godot. For this project she had to react at first to the limitations of the
space and to the scarce resources, so she focused on the stage objects. Four chairs on which
actors seat became objects with “a story”. As an extension for the seat, or above it, each chair
had a disc attached. It was made of epoxy and had implants of props which belonged to the
characters, thus, the disc became an objectified business card. A bow, a hair pin, a make-up
brush, lipstick, beads, hair curlers, eye shadows describe a coquette young woman. A set of keys
with different usages (car, safety-locks), elements from a bike chain, screws, nails, DVDs
indicate, beforehand, a boy passionate about technique. Each installation was equipped with a
transparent cable, with led lights which lit the actor’s face, either from the back, contrejour, or
from above, dive-in, as in theatre, adding visual special effects. Furniture with no redeeming
features, functional, the chair became a “chair-character”, an extension of the one who is seated
on, adding something defining about him or her, adding to the character’s traits.
Irina Moscu believes in apprenticeship and mentoring, formulas which helped her in her
first steps in her career. “I have learnt to trust what I do from Ștefania Cenean. I was unsure of
my path, I had no clue what scenography was and I was walking timidly. I needed someone to
tell me what was good or not. From Ms. Cenean this is what I got, trust. Dragoș Buhagiar made
me well-ordered, I learned many technical things, how to build a set. The same happened to me
when working with Heti (Helmut Stürmer n.m.). Each of them is in a different area, but each had
an important part in my evolution. But I tied my soul to Heti.”
After being director’s assistant, Irina had a hop and jumped into the “big theatre “, the
repertory theatre. There she has worked with Mihai Măniuțiu, Alexandru Dabija, Radu-
Alexandru Nica, Radu Afrim, Anca Bradu, but also with Bobi Pricop, Andrea Gavriliu, Erwin
Șimsensohn, Radu Iacoban, for The National Theatre Bucharest, Odeon Theatre, Radu Stanca
National Theatre, Sibiu, Ioan Slavici Classic Theatre, Arad, Regina Maria Theatre, Oradea,
Anton Pann Theatre, Râmnicu Vâlcea, Luceafărul Theatre, Iasi, institutions which gave her the

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occasion for her to deploy. About her own working style Irina Moscu says “I extract the essence
from the text, I distil the feeling the play transmitted to me into a sketch. And from the concept I
am left with, the idea I eventually take on stage branches. My scenographic creation represents
the essence of the text. When you look at the stage, you have to understand what the story is
about. Not redundantly, but the essence, in abstract.” The setting is a plastic echo of the text, and
it amplifies the meanings of its drama. Supporter of a conceptualized scenography, Irina Moscu
sublimates the essence of the play in 3D. The visual dominants are geometric shapes defined by
lines and angles, seldom roundness, models and outlines which interact with light and video
projections. The video develops the setting, it completes the idea and its visual materialization,
and the resulted image requires the viewer to decipher the meaning encrypted by the creativity of
the set designer. She is preoccupied with new technologies on a theoretical level as well, as Irina
Moscu is writing a PhD thesis in Architecture, with the topic “Redefining Contemporary
Theatrical Space in the Context of New Technologies. Virtual Theatre”.
For the Pisica verde (The Green Cat) by Elise Wilk (Luceafărul Theatre, Iasi, 2015) Irina
Moscu and Bobi Pricop have exploited and premiered aesthetically the concept of silent disco.
The setting rebuilds a club which includes both actors and audience in an area which is firmly
bordered by scenographic walls, placing the spectators in the actors’ playful space, among them.
Each has wireless headphones by means of which, they can choose if they listen to the music and
to what volume or only to the actors. The receivers becomes participative, they can opt for
standing or sitting, they do not have a predetermined place where they should stay during the
performance, they really intervene with their own decision in reception. The spectator becomes
active, he/she disposes of tools and means of controlling his or her own involvement in the
performance. Basically, each spectator becomes, in part, author of his or her own performance.
The scenographic ensembles made by Irina Moscu are structured on subspaces are
emphasised by colour and light, usually neon or halogen, spectral, iridescent, which impresses a
special halo. Lighting contributes to the layers of significance, in the service of space and of
idea, as light is the one that “can stress or destroy”. The creator is found of transparency,
translucence (glass, veil, epoxy, plexiglass etc.), as it allows a gradual disclosure of the theatrical
space. The setting and the atmosphere are exposed slowly, they are “in standby”, they become
once with the action and characters on stage. The composition is articulated in consonance with
the dramaturgic register and the tempo of the show, it supports them in their evolution, in a

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unitary universe. Vertical and horizontal trigger stability and balance. Oblique and diagonal,
intended fractures bring dynamism. The family of shapes stipulates the position of actors on
stage, determines their paths. Lines and angles in symmetry or asymmetry indicate dramatic
tension, enhance it and their visual “confrontation” encapsulate and impose a tonal dominant.
The connotative dimension is defining for Irina Moscu’s scenographies.
20th has been declared unequivocally, as the director’s century and the central position of
the director still holds up, even if the end is declaimed and collective forms of creation, of theatre
author are frequent and tempting. There are numerous choreographers who have taken the role of
stage director, generating bordering theatre forms, of set designers who by means of their
creations switch the focus on the visual dimension. In Irina Moscu’s case, the artistic relationship
with the stage director follows the idea that “scenography establishes a road even for the
director. You offer him/her a direction by how you propose a certain type of space which
contains so many stage ideas, values. And he/she can pick them up and can build the show in
accordance to your proposal”. In the teams she was part of, the creative relations have been as
natural as possible and “luckily, the directors let me carry out unhindered, they trusted me. They
let me have it my way, so I could experiment what I wanted. They credited me”. Setting, objects,
costumes, there is the same thought in all of them, but Irina always starts with the setting, it
offers the context. “I organize well from the very beginning, I don’t change my mind, but I also
love the unforeseeable, it exists, we can’t ignore it. I usually keep my thought right till the end.”
2015 has been a full year for the young creator, she has worked for four premieres: Între noi e
totul bine'/All Good between us by Dorota Masłowska, director, Radu Afrim, National Theatre
Bucharest; Dezorient Express by Andrea Gavriliu, Classic Theatre Ioan Slavici, Arad; Uciderea
ritualică a lui Gorge Mastromas by Dennis Kelly, direction Bobi Pricop, Regina Maria Theatre,
Oradea; Pisica verde/The Green Cat by Elise Wilk, direction, Bobi Pricop, Luceafărul Theatre
Iasi.
In all her theatre creation one can feel the inter-influence of the three directions in her
formation – architecture, scenography, design, among them she continues to migrate for the
better. Scenography does not mean only shaping a space decorated with props and light, “as a set
designer, you shape a whole stage discourse, but you are not alone.” For her, synthesis and
symbol through object and setting have become defining. Any new creation has to be a concept
and symbol. For the theatre-dance show Dezorient Express, the construction of the stage meant

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to concentrate the idea of train and a train station. The spectator watches through the fourth
imaginary wall, in a stylized wagon, seen in its section, with a compartment for travellers, a
corridor a toilet, etc., a whole ensemble to which some typical elements are added: board,
platform, waiting room. It is very clear where we are, what happens, and Irina Moscu has thus
condensed a whole railway area, making the most from the space and suggestion resources: the
setting seems a snapshot from an ample sequence, the train, the visual dynamics signs add up
naturally to the kinetic-choreographic ones. In what materials are concerned, Irina Moscu has a
preference for the... expensive ones! “The ones I cannot afford. Thanks to the budgets, I
eventually find others, more acceptable, but with a similar effect. This can also be fun!”, said
Irina Moscu, as it fuses her creativity.
To abstract and to metamorphose the space, to “follow the footsteps” of the text, to
imagine settings that “talk”, that synthesize and sublime, to follow the symbolic link between set
elements and the other components of the performance, modernism – they are all dimensions
which configure Irina Moscu’s artistic universe.
Linked structurally to a creation team, the set designers show their creative powers in
relation to a director, a text and a cast. Spatial art, set design re-creates fictional worlds by means
of the play between setting, costumes, stage objects, lighting, projections. Shaping a stage means
accommodating the director’s concept whose material image is given by scenography. The
geometry of ideas, shapes and materials results in a universe where performers tell theatrical
stories following narrative logics which need to impress the audience. In the successful
professional profiles of Alina Herescu, Adrian Damian and Irina Moscu one can identify a
possible common “set” of qualities which includes artistic aptitudes, creativity, passion,
devotion. Beyond them, there is the hardest step in any career: delimitation and affirming one’s
own identity.

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